When I went to Colorado over the Labor Day weekend to visit friends in Breckenridge and Colorado Springs there were two breweries I was interested in seeking out: Left Hand Brewing Company and Great Divide Brewing Company. Scheduling prevented me from actually visiting the physical breweries and tap rooms, but I was able to track down some of the beers I wanted to try in bottles.
Left Hand makes a sampler twelve pack. Great mysteries are contained within:
The beers in the sampler pack are Stranger Pale Ale, Sawtooth Ale, Milk Stout, and Black Jack Porter.
Let’s look at the beers in order starting with Stranger Pale Ale:
I apologize for the quality of the images. The dSLR did not make the trip to Colorado because I was trying to travel light to make room for two children’s stuff.
This is my favorite style of beer. It’s a little lighter in body than the traditional American craft ale, but it has enough bitterness to balance that out. There is enough alcohol (5% ABV) to know you are drinking beer, but not so much that after a couple you are wondering how to make the walk up 4 O’Clock Road. Pale ales do not need to be overly bitter and strong to be successful.
Look who’s here…Cascade and Willamette hops along with their friend Centennial. The two horsemen of the American craft beer movement.
Man, you can really taste the Willamette and Cascade hops used in this beer. It’s not too powerful, but once you get used to looking for the particular flavor and aroma of these hops it is soooooo easy to point them out in a beer. It is the signature of American craft beers.
That being said Sawtooth is a great example of American craft ale. Since the arrival of Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager and New Belgium’s Fat Tire, the American craft ale has taken on a distinct form: medium amber color, Cascade and Willamette hops, long lasting head, and a strong mouth presence that lingers for a moment after swallowing. Sure, there are variations on the theme but if you line the beers up those characteristics will be present. It’s a good thing because it means that good beer is being made all over the country and the United States is developing distinct styles.
Milk stouts are an interesting breed of cat. Like traditional stouts, a milk stout is a dark beer. Also like tradition stouts, e.g. Guinness, milk stout will have the taste qualities of roasted malts and a rich mouth feel. Where this variety differs from tradition is the use of lactose. Lactose, a sugar usually associated with milk, is not fermentable by the traditional beer yeasts used in the production of most beers. Thus, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the beer.
Left Hand’s Milk Stout is sweet, but not overly so. The residual sweetness of the lactose gives the beer just enough to be noticeable but not enough to become sickly. The beer is also amazingly light on the tongue for being 6% ABV which is something that attribute to the low bitterness (27 IBU). Too often a strong beer is accompanied by a lot of bitterness from some serious hopping. Not so with Left Hand’s Milk Stout. This is a great alternative to the more well-known stouts available in the liquor store.
Last, but not least, is the Black Jack Porter
I drank the Milk Stout prior to pouring myself a Black Jack Porter because it was like stepping up a ladder on a progression. The sweetness of the Milk Stout disappears and the alcohol (6.8% ABV) and bitterness (35 IBU) go up.
The dark flavors we associated with porters, chocolate and coffee, are present in spades but nothing is overpowering like a coffee stout. The chocolate malt used in this beer is a great choice and an underappreciated ingredient in the beer universe. Unlike actual chocolate or cocoa nibs added at various times during the brewing process, chocolate malt’s flavors get mellowed out over the process since the flavors are present from the first step in the brewing process. It creates subtlety.
It’s pretty apparent from my notes on these beers that I really enjoyed what the fellows at Left Hand Brewing are doing in Longmont, Colorado. I hope that I get a chance the next time I am out west to stop by the brewery and taste the liquid at the source.